Intertech Plastics founder and CEO Noel Ginsburg has thrown his hat in the ring as a Democratic candidate for Colorado governor and ramped up his campaign for the 2018 election. While the Denver native is best known as a leader in the manufacturing industry, he's also deeply committed to community service, as evidenced from his work with such organizations as Denver Public Schools, the Colorado Workforce Development Council, and the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce.
CompanyWeek: Why did you decide to get in the race to become Colorado's next governor?
Noel Ginsburg: It's really been a culmination of doing decades of work in our community and working with two governors, Roy Romer and most recently John Hickenlooper. The things that I care about and am most passionate about, whether it's my industry -- manufacturing -- education, or the other issues facing our state, the best way to have an impact is as governor, My company was at a point in time where I could make this move, so I made the decision to move forward. It's a way to make a difference.
CW: Where does manufacturing fit into the future economy of Colorado and how does your economic development strategy address that?
NG: There are over 6,000 manufacturers in Colorado, so it's an important piece of our economy. For six or seven years, through the work I've done as the founder of the Colorado Advanced Manufacturing Association, I think we have a role and a growing role with a changing economy.
At the core of that, one of the key challenges manufacturers have in this country -- and certainly we have it in Colorado -- is the development of a skilled workforce. My involvement in creating the state's youth apprenticeship program, CareerWise Colorado, is an example of what I will continue to do and accelerate in Colorado once governor.
I sat on the state's Economic Development Commission for the last two and a half years. That's the commission responsible for allocating the state incentives to companies either growing or moving here. What I have observed as a part of that process is the vast majority of incentives have really gone to companies in the Denver/Boulder/Loveland/Longmont area, with a smaller percentage of those going to manufacturing, because people don't necessarily think of Colorado as a manufacturing hub. We are centrally located. My company has prospered here for the last 38 years because of its location, but when I look at other parts of Colorado like Pueblo, you have a city that has an industrial background with the steel industry. Evraz is still there, so the remnants of the steel industry is still there, but the amount of workforce that's currently active has declined.
What I'd like to see is a retargeting of our incentives so they don't just bias to the bigger urban centers. I'd like a way to engage our more rural communities where manufacturing will be more competitive. The workforce in Pueblo, for example, still has the skills. If we can entice companies to go there through incentives, we have a better chance of rebuilding their economy.
Once we're able to create in our factories the technology and automation systems that allow us to compete with Mexico and China, Colorado can be a great place to build things. Vestas made that decision and I would like to see other high-tech energy companies come here. I'd love to see the next Tesla battery factory here, or GM's battery factory here.
Communities across Colorado should be making their own decisions as to what industries come there, and the incentives we develop should be surgical in that they meet the need of the community. I don't think it's appropriate for legislators under the dome or the governor to decide what's good for Alamosa or Burlington.
CW: What are the specific manufacturing sectors you see as having the most potential in Colorado?
NG: I think aerospace continues to be an industry that we lead in Colorado. I think the medical products industry is another we have a strong base for, but I've been to Utah a fair amount and they've really cultivated a medical parts industry, and that industry's growing there much faster.
As governor, you're marketer-in-chief of a state. Ultimately, you don't want to pick winners and losers. What you do want to do is support those industries with potential for growth.
CW: What do manufacturers need from Colorado's state government that they might not be getting now?
NG: I fundamentally believe it's around workforce and having an ecosystem where you can develop, train, and grow your business in manufacturing because you have the workforce available to you. When the governor's met with companies outside Colorado, when the conversation moves to CareerWise and apprenticeships, their eyes light up. It becomes a topic of their discussion, whether it's Microsoft, Apple, or other types of companies, they're interested in how we're developing our workforce. The traditional education system by itself does not provide all the answers. Too many times, we pressure them to be a solution for everything while at the same time not even funding them to do what they do. The model that we've created is just so appealing, not just to our local communities, but to other states, because it recognizes there's a role for businesses and manufacturers to play.
If our factory floors and our offices become part of that training system, I think Colorado will become the best place to build a business and the manufacturing industry will come here -- not because of our location or the mountains or the blue sky, but because we have the best training system in the country.
CW: Tell us more about CareerWise Colorado and how it's progressing so far.
NG: I chair the College and Career Pathways Council at Denver Public Schools, and they invited me to go with them to learn about the Swiss apprenticeship system two years ago. We spent 10 days learning about the Swiss system and I was so moved by what I saw that I felt it had real potential for us here in Colorado. I reached out to the governor before I even left the country and asked me to lead a delegation with me back to Switzerland.
In June of 2016, we launched CareerWise Colorado. We've now raised over $16 million to fund the development of the program. We now have apprenticeships operating in four school districts, so we went from an idea last June to staffing an organization to build relationships with four school districts -- Denver, Jefferson County, Cherry Creek, and Mesa on the Western Slope -- and two charter schools on the Front Range. With industry support, we came up with competencies the apprentices we train to and recruited the initial pilot students from those four school district and two charters. We just brought in our initial cohort of apprentices six weeks ago. We have launched with advanced manufacturing, banking and finance, information technology, and business services. We're adding healthcare next year and we're adding Eagle County next year as well. We're also looking for some rural communities to apply, and they are.
CW: How many companies and students are participating?
NG: We had over 40 companies commit, we have apprentices in 30 companies today. We had 120 students enter into apprenticeships in the pilot year. That'll grow to 250 in 2018, then we'll do another 250 to 300 in the third year, and we'll scale towards of 20,000 apprenticeships a year in a decade.
CW: What's involved with scaling the program from a few hundred participants to 20,000?
NG: Initially, what we have to do is work out all the bugs. We don't have a history in this country of doing this at this scale with youth, whereas in Switzerland, 70 percent of their population goes through an apprenticeship. Essentially, the number of 20,000 is 10 percent of the graduating high school students would be participating in a decade, so it's far less than is happening overseas, far more than is done anywhere else in this country.
CW: What is Switzerland able to leverage from its strong workforce program? How does that apply to Colorado?
NG: First, when you look at it from the social perspective, their youth unemployment rate is 3.2 percent, compared to much higher rates, particularly if you're a minority, in this country. Second, Switzerland has been named the most innovative country in the world three years running, and it's not because their people are special. They have a special training system that we don't have. They're able to make really high-end, highly engineered products and compete with the rest of the world even though it's not a low-cost manufacturing country. Their innovation, they would say, comes from the fact that they're bringing youth into their companies at a young age when they're still impressionable but when they have a different perspective and help design and build new products. They're critical to the innovation at their company.
CW: What is something that Colorado voters might not know about Noel Ginsburg?
NG: Because I never set out in my life to sometime be governor, what they don't know is my deep history in civic engagement. Just running a business or a manufacturing business doesn't qualify you to be the next governor of Colorado. It's the mix of civic and business leadership I've exerted for decades now. I've worked with two governors, I've worked on numerous pieces of legislation to support workforce, I chaired Mile High United Way two times. I was asked to run the Denver Public Schools Foundation as its first president, I did it for two years to put it on the right track and it's now one of the top three or four public school foundations in the entire country. When they turned it over to me, they literally handed me a box of records. That was it.
I was a founder of the I Have a Dream Foundation here in Colorado and my wife and I sponsored 42 kids at the South Lincoln housing projects for 10 years. That's a neighborhood with a 90 percent dropout rate and we graduated 90 percent of our kids. I have a history in Colorado of taking on critical issues, building plans, and actually getting things done.
There is a lot of good people running in this race, but at the end of the day they've been in the political sphere. The question is: With what this state needs in the future, what type of leadership is most important going forward? I would tell you that the state's fractured in its funding for K-12 education, it's fractured in its investment in infrastructure, we have issues around TABOR and Gallagher that are affecting business that will ultimately slow down growth in our economy. In 10 or 15 years, we won't be contributing anything to higher ed; we're now 45th out of 50 states in funding higher ed. There are real challenges in this state that are not being taken on.
My leadership, although quiet, is determined. If you think about creating a nonprofit from an idea two years ago that's now raised $16 million and been recognized nationally, that's an example of the type of leadership I represent and I'll continue to do that. But honestly doing that as governor you have a bully pulpit that really enables you to bring businesses here, to talk about the manufacturing community and the unique characteristics of Colorado that would appeal to manufacturing companies around the world, particularly if we have the skills and the training model that can compete globally. That's what I will bring to Colorado.